Today I have listened to the 2 sound recordings and looked at the links on the LMS which form part of the Intersections and Articulations section of MA2. They were a timely reminder of some of the debates that I have been struggling with throughout the year and, to a lesser extent, before. On the one hand Fran Stafford who has been a curator in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf for the past six years as an expatriate (I assume North American) and the other Jon Barraclough who is a British artist based in Merseyside who struggles with the idea of himself as a curator but who describes drawing projects which he has been involved in and for which he could be considered to have a curatorial role.
Both of these professionals have a wide range of roles within their practice. They are both involved in organising and in some way encouraging new audiences to see art in new settings. Stafford does this through her cousin’s Chiropractor’s clinic ‘in touch’. By showing emerging artists who are both international and from Bahrain and what she calls street culture (however she doesn’t go into what this might mean in Bahrain which we know is a kingdom which has questionable freedom of speech). She is also actively considering how digital platforms like instagram alter how art is disseminated. Barraclough does this, for example through his involvement with The Drawing Paper, a collaboration with Mike Carney. It is a not for profit newspaper based publication concerned solely with drawing and which is produced as low cost production, transportation and aimed at being accessible to contributors and to new audiences.
The context in which they are currently working are totally different. Bahrain is a gulf kingdom with no recent history of art institutions. The National Museum was a pioneer in the area when it opened in 1988. Stafford tells us how new the art and performing arts scenes are and that there are few galleries and no art institutions. She talks about a young art world and focuses on an emerging scene. There are 3 Unesco world heritage sites she says but does not dwell on either the past or the politics of the present in the gulf. Barraclough on the other hand is based in Great Britain where although the arts have seen a drop in public funding recently, there is a strong tradition in art education and state support for the arts.
Although the information supplied by OCA suggested that Stafford might be an artist curator she does not mention her own art practice whereas Barraclough’s practice is very much linked to what he is not totally comfortable about being called his curatorial practice. There is a blurring of what is curating in his case whereas Stafford has a multifunctioning organising role including selection works and promoting emerging artists, one might assume that in the new galleries these are for sale. Barraclough’s project ‘The drawing paper’ is free for the audience and is a logo free zone. This ideas is to provide an alternative to the preciousness of art venues and encourage new audiences. The newspapers are reusable and drawing contributers usually contribute to the cost of making the work. In contrast Stafford has worked with corporate sponsorship in the arts and, although not exclusively, with commercial galleries.
Barraclough talked in more detail about selection and how even now Mike Carney and himself do not have a clearly defined selection policy. They started out wondering whether they should choose drawings they like or attach themes to different editions. They have made connections between the works, or pages, either stylistic or thematic. They are also interested in drawing practice which challenges what drawing might be. For example 3D work or where it is painting.
This contrasting of two very different ways that audiences encounter art work is at the heart of many of my own doubts. Although Barraclough quotes Bruce Nauman about artists letting go of our work at some point and no longer being precious about how it is shown it is so tempting to want to maintain some control of how it is seen. At what stage do we ‘let go’? In drafting my submission documents I have been trying to deal with this question. How do I want my artwork to be seen, inside galleries or outside of the artworld system? This has raised so many other questions: How seriously is street art taken? does the audience engage in the same way. how much time do I want to spend on organisation and how much can you ‘control’ or do I want to ‘control’ my audience. I am automatically drawn to Barraclough’s practice because he is an artist and his apparent honesty about what is happening in his own work. I am suspicious of anyone working in the Gulf in this way especially as politics are not even mentioned nor are any very specific attitudes to selection or art practices.
The fact that Barraclough cares so passionately about drawing is also inspirational to me. In his definition of drawing and his encouraging others to draw he is interested in as communication and drawing as mind mapping and as a way of knowing and seeing the world that seems to go beyond art practice. I have to acknowledge my own bias in reacting to the 2 presentations. But perhaps the most useful to me at this stage is Bruce Nauman’s idea of teaching yourself to let go of the work at some point and recognising you cannot control what happens to it or how it is received.